It’s probably no news to most people who work that poor leaders produce disgruntled, unengaged employees. Harvard Business Review research also shows convincingly that great leaders do the opposite — that is, that they produce highly committed, engaged, and productive employees.
And the difference is huge- in a study of 160,576 employees working for 30,661 leaders at hundreds of companies around the world, it was found that the average commitment scores in the bottom quarter for those unfortunate enough to work for the worst leaders (those leaders who had been rated in the bottom 10th percentile by their bosses, colleagues, and direct reports on 360 assessments of their leadership abilities).
By contrast, average commitment scores for those fortunate enough to work for the best leaders (those rated in the 90th percentile) soared to the top 20th percentile. Simply put, the people working for the really bad leaders were unhappy than three quarters of the group; the ones working for the really excellent leaders were more committed than eight out of ten of their counterparts.
Types of Leaders
What exactly grows employee engagement? HBR observed two common, and very different, approaches. On the one hand are leaders called “Drivers”; on the other, there are those leaders called “Enhancers.”
Drivers are very good at establishing high standards of excellence, getting people to stretch for goals that go beyond what they originally thought possible, keeping people focused on the highest priority goals and objectives, doing everything possible to achieve those goals, and continually improving.
Enhancers, by contrast, are very good at staying in touch with the issues and concerns of others, acting as role models, giving honest feedback in a helpful way, developing people, and maintaining trust.
Which Is Best?
When people were asked in an informal survey, which was most likely to increase engagement, the vast majority opted for the Enhancer approach. Most leaders we’ve coached have told us that they believe the way to increase employee commitment was to be the “nice guy or gal.”
This is not surprising to many people who assume that most employees don’t respond well to pushy or demanding leaders. But those working for those they judged as effective Enhancers were even less engaged (well, slightly less). Only 6.7% of those scored in the top 10% in their levels of engagement.
The analysis suggested that neither approach is sufficient in itself. Rather, both are needed to make real headway in increasing employee engagement. In fact, 68% of the employees working for leaders they rated as both effective Enhancers and Drivers scored in the top 10% on overall satisfaction and engagement with the organization.
Leaders with highly engaged employees know how to demand a great deal from employees, but are also seen as considerate, trusting, collaborative, and great developers of people.
The lesson then is that those of you who consider yourself to be Drivers should not be afraid to be the “nice guy or gal.” And all of you aspiring nice guys or gals should not view that as incompatible with setting demanding goals. The two approaches are like the oars of a boat. Both need to be used with equal force to maximize the engagement of employees under your direct report.